The Vote on Issue 1 Is Over,
The Citizen Effort to Improve Our City Council Continues
While the political and business elites came together in a $1.1 million campaign to distort and defeat Issue 1, Represent Columbus is continuing this work that is essential to our democracy. Our ballot issue caused the city to put together a Charter Review Committee charged with addressing the issues of representation we have raised and making recommendations to council for any changes the 9 member committee decides are necessary.
Represent Columbus has also been more busy than the committee — we have reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (the nation’s most prominent civil rights law firm) to make inquiry as to whether or not our at large form of government might be unlawful. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was amended in 1982, federal law has looked with suspicion on at large voting schemes, for their potentially unlawful voter dilution effect — the fact that protected classes of citizens (race, color or minority language) may not be able to elect officials of their choice because their votes will be subsumed by majority votes when there is racially polarized voting. The U.S. Department of Justice is charged with investigating claims of voting systems that violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and lists approximately 35 cases it has brought against localities in the past 10 years for Section 2 violations.
In response to Represent Columbus inquiries, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (“LDF”) has released a Frequently Asked Questions Fact Sheet addressing Columbus, as the LDF begins its internal review of Columbus’ history and prospects the city’s electoral structure is unlawful and subject for litigation (click link above for PDF, or see thumbnail below — click to enlarge). The LDF has successfully litigated and changed hundreds of localities from this discriminatory form of election.
And while we have been asking the larger legal question, we have also been busy working on a new proposal that draws from some of the attacks against Issue 1. This effort has been endorsed by the 2016 Citizens’ Grassroots Congress — a network of local progressive organizations who know that change starts with people, not with government.
Perhaps most importantly, we have been drafting maps of potential city council districting plans. While we continue to think that the earlier approach was better policy — that maps that change every 10 years do not belong in a constitution, but the process by which map drawing is done does belong in a constitution — we heard the opposition claim that Issue 1 should have included a map, so as we continue this effort we will likely be proposing a map.
We are holding off on drafting final language to circulate, awaiting the outcome of the city’s charter committee recommendations. We believe the language will be quite similar to that proposed in Issue 1, but with the following components:
- either a 15 member part-time council with 3 members elected at large and 12 from districts; a 13 member part-time council, with 3 members elected at large and 10 members elected from districts; or an 11 member council with 4 members at large and 7 from districts. There will be no provision for the size of council to change as the city’s population changes.
- There will be a 9 member apportionment committee appointed by the Mayor and Council, with no more than 3 members registered with any political party.
- To guard against political gerrymandering the 9 member apportionment committee can not include elected officials, candidates for office, city staff, or city lobbyists.
- The apportionment committee will contract with a “Districting Master” and goes through public hearings, accepts proposals submitted by the public, and decides from among no more than three proposals brought forward by the Districting Master and public. By majority vote, the committee accepts a final apportionment plan, files it with the city clerk and it becomes law, then disbands until the following decennial census.
We are seeking public feedback on the maps — specifically in hearing views on the merits of a 7 district, 10 district, or a 12 district format. Please weigh in here. We are also seeking people interested in helping finalize the proposal and sell it to the public while we gather signatures (signature collection will likely begin in February once the recommendations of the committee have been released, and will run through May. We are asking for volunteers to help us meet with various groups and share information about the proposal during that time period.).
through fact sheets prepared by the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government:
Voice from the Past — A History of Columbus Thoughts on Representation: Learn what Columbus leaders have said about our council representation since 1914.
Council Governance Nationwide: Learn what “normal” is with city councils across the nation, and how “unnatural” our current 7 member all at-large format is (the only all at-large among top 25 cities).
Read testimony (testimony-12-15-16) by Co-Chair Jonathan Beard, and view documentation of the discriminatory nature of Columbus’s at large elections history-of-elections-to-council-12-16-16, which evidences the impracticality of Black citizens being elected to council without the collusion of big business and the Franklin County Democratic Party which sponsor candidates to create an illusion of political enfranchisement of Columbus’s Black community.